Like all great managers of men, Paul approaches a difficult issue by beginning with positive praise. He commends them for having adopted the new way of life in Christ that he taught them. But he wants to address the ever problematic and controversial question of sex in the Christian community. I think this is one of Paul’s most sensitive lessons. He contrasts the primal nature of sexual lust with the holiness and purity of the ways of God. Sexual abstinence has been a hallmark of Christianity for thousand of years as I write today, but it was a completely alien concept to the Greeks to whom Paul was writing. In these relatively permissive times, the idea of what constitutes sexual immorality is very vague. But I think Paul is not vague. He says that in order to be holy we must avoid sexual sin. That is to say, never harm or cheat a Christian brother in this way. Sex involves very powerful emotions and feelings and so it is almost inevitable that some, or all of those involved, will be hurt in some way. Then he says it again: we are called to live holy lives, not impure lives. However, we must remember that Paul had praised them for the radical new lifestyle they were already living, so with this advice about sex, he was simply encouraging them to take it to the next level. He was not, I think, harshly judging their sexual habits, as many Christians have done since.
1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 NLT
Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you. You live this way already, and we encourage you to do so even more. For you remember what we taught you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honour— not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways. Never harm or cheat a Christian brother in this matter by violating his wife, for the Lord avenges all such sins, as we have solemnly warned you before. God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
For today’s goal I want to focus on the idea that Paul finishes this passage with. As I’ve already mentioned, the Greek world at that time had no meaningful concept of sexual immorality. Paul was right to point out the fact that no human laws or social norms would condemn them for their sexual practices. He was asking them to consider what was right in God’s eyes and choose to obey His will, even though everyone else was pleasing themselves and gratifying their lustful desires all around them. It is exactly the same today. We have a straight choice between what society says is fine and what the Lord says.
Jeremiah 16:16-18:23, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-5:3, Psalms 81:1-16, Proverbs 25:6-8